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CHEAP EATS

Not your ordinary pizza

Email|Print| Text size + By Denise Taylor
November 4, 2004

Though they don't open their doors until midday, the pizza-making at Penguin Pizza starts at 7 a.m. Duck must be braised; mango-pineapple salsa made; barbecue sauce simmered; and plum tomato sauce stewed. To create those kinds of toppings -- and to do it all from scratch -- just takes more time.

Penguin Pizza is the newest incarnation of Pig's Pizza, which was open for just more than a year a block up the street. Owners Dermot O'Neill, his wife Sara Cole, and his cousin, Dermot Doyne, outgrew the small space at Pig's. So in September they moved, changed mascots, prettied up the new space, and expanded their offerings. Besides 14 inspired pizzas, each on an expertly made thin crust, Penguin now offers simple pastas, a good selection of beer and wine, and (starting Sunday) an extensive breakfast menu. Whole wheat pizza crust is in the works as well.

Our first pie was sensational. The seasonal ($9.95 for a medium 12-inch) had roasted butternut squash puree instead of the usual tomato sauce, and was dotted with judicious dabs of tangy goat cheese, savory braised leeks, and aromatic fried sage. Nothing was excessively gobbed on; everything belonged. The warm flavors captured the best of fall. The Aegean ($9.95) was also a careful balance of flavors. Juicy Kalamata olives, crumbles of feta cheese, and tufts of julienned spinach were all held by a thin, gooey -- but not greasy -- layer of the house's four-cheese blend. "All four cheeses -- parmesan, jack, Swiss, and mozzarella -- are there for their different qualities," said O'Neill. "First, it's got to do with taste, but second, it's got to do with how they hold together. The Swiss melts at a different rate than the mozzarella. You know how when you lift a slice of regular pizza out of the box and everything ends up on the floor? We're trying to avoid that, and the four cheeses give us a nice result."

You have to love a pizza maker who calculates even the cheese as if he were making souffl, and we enjoyed just about every pizza we tried. The duck confit pie ($12.95 medium) was a favorite with its flavorful shreds of slow-cooked duck, sweet red onion, soft slices of roasted potato, and just enough fontina cheese to make it sing. A garden mix of roasted red pepper and broccoli with sun dried tomato and goat cheese topped the tasty pimento pizza ($9.95). The only dud was the smoked salmon ($11.95), which suffered from strong-tasting fish, too much cheese, and a hailstorm of salty capers.

Meanwhile, everything else seems to work here. The bright yellow-and-blue walls, funky mix of art, and pub-like vibe made for a cozy space. The waitstaff was helpful and service well-timed. The pastas were a bargain. Of the six basic pastas, served in big, white bowls, we tried two. Fettuccine pomodori ($6.95) came with a delightful homemade red sauce with soft chunks of garlic and lots of fresh basil. Rigatoni all rusticana ($8.95) was a nice toss of crisp broccoli in a thin cream sauce edged with a touch of chili. Desserts here are made to be slurped. The Penguin offers a host of all-natural smoothies ($4 each) made simply with real fruit, organic yogurt, honey, and ice -- try the madcap mango.

PENGUIN PIZZA

Cuisine: Italian/Pizza

Address: 735 Huntington Avenue, Boston (Fenway)

Phone: 617-617-9200

Hours: Daily 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.

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